Employment Guide: Internships could give students an advantage

By Olivia Garber

Any employment guide will tell you that internships can help get jobs. But for some Pitt… Any employment guide will tell you that internships can help get jobs. But for some Pitt students, internships can become jobs.

A recent study by the Wall Street Journal said that nearly a quarter of college recruiters filled about 50 percent of their job openings with students who had previously interned at their company. This trend has also been making some headway at Pitt.

Jeffrey Whitehead was an intern in the Study Abroad Office before he was hired to work there full time. He’s currently its interim director.

“Having the knowledge of how [the] office operated certainly helped [me] in [my] endeavor to secure full-time employment,” he said in an e-mail.

Cheryl Finlay, director of the Office of Student Employment and Placement Assistance, said in an e-mail that having an internship can be a factor in a student’s ability to secure a full-time position in the company.

Caren Marcus, the writing internship coordinator for the English department, agreed. She said students can get a job after completing an internship, but “the stars have to fall in the right place.”

Angela Radack, a senior at Pitt and intern at KDKA, isn’t counting on it.

“If they would offer me a job, that would be great — but I’m not banking on it,” she said.

Some students and administrators say that while an internship isn’t a direct shoo-in for a job, it can be a way for students to get their foot in the door.

Ben Pilcher, who works in the Study Abroad Office, has experienced this firsthand.

Pilcher, who interned at the Study Abroad Office in the fall of 2005, started working there after he graduated in 2006.

But he was careful to say that the internship wasn’t the deciding factor for getting the job.

“The big reason I work here now is because a job happened to open up,” he said.

Marcus adds that getting a job post-internship isn’t a given.

“Often it has nothing to do with the person. If there’s not an opening, there’s nothing for them,” she said.

Pilcher applied to more than 50 study-abroad positions and was planning on accepting a position at a different place when a spot opened at Pitt. He said he had to go through all the steps of applying and interviewing for the vacancy.

Though his familiarity with the interviewer made the process more comfortable, Pilcher said it was all “very professional.”

Pitt’s annual Post-Graduation Status Report said that 23 percent of students from the class of 2009 who reported that they were employed after graduation cited a previous internship as being the most beneficial factor leading to their current position.

Radack said that although she’s still adjusting to the extra work, the internship is worth it because she’s able to experience the real working world.

“I like going to an office in the morning and [being] around working people,” she said.

Being around working people can reveal an intern’s work ethic and talent, which can also be a factor in landing a full-time job.

The five or six interns who work at the Study Abroad Office every term don’t always become full-time employees.  During the seven years Whitehead has worked there, however, three previous interns have taken full-time positions.

Whitehead estimates that during his time at the Study Abroad Office, there have been about six vacancies.

“The position is open to whoever applies, but it’s nice when former interns apply because we know what they’re capable of,” Pilcher said.

Marcus said that companies like to hire interns because they’re a proven commodity. Instead of looking at a person’s profile on paper, companies have seen how the interns work, she said.

Pilcher adds that, often, the interns end up being the best candidate for the job because they have a proven record of success, but it’s not automatically assumed that they’ll be selected.

Rather, he said that the internships are a way for students to get the attention of the office.

Marcus adds that even if students don’t get a job after their internship, they shouldn’t use that as an excuse to slack off.

She advises students to stay in contact with the company because networking is such a vital component in finding a job.

Stay in their radar, so when there is a job opening — in any company — they’ll think of you, Marcus said.

A quick, one- or two-line e-mail is a good way to stay in contact, she added.